The Pages of My Life in Third World USA Part 3
by Jenny Fulton
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Part 3 – Mixed Reviews
We arrived in Oregon and waited for the other flights to arrive. There was some confusion about who was coming and when and should they go ahead and rent the vans or wait? It was somehow all worked out and everyone made it the two hours to the destination.
My roommate ended up being the woman from the plane, Elane. She had lived in the area of Passing Sheep Valley her entire life and offered to help me if I ever need it.
“The kids respect me and know how I am,” she told me at one point. “If they’re giving you problems, you just tell and I’ll come tell them you’re ok and then they’ll listen.”
I listened and nodded, grateful for her immediate acceptance of me.
I liked Elane. She seemed sincere about her job at the school and unpretentious in general. At one point, I was able to talk a little with her about Christianity. She knew what it was, and seemed to believe it as an addition to the traditional beliefs. I have come to realize that this is not an uncommon compromise made among the people.
The days in Oregon were spent mostly in sessions about how to teach the curriculum we would be getting. To put it lightly, I wasn’t impressed. The curriculum takes on a Direct Instruction approach. I had no idea what this was before I went. For those as unfamiliar with this method as I was, I will attempt to give a brief illustration. Since you already know I wasn’t impressed, you can immediately assume that yes, this will be a biased illustration.
[Teacher writes the letter ‘a’ on the board.] “Students, this letter is ‘a’. What letter is this?” [Teacher holds up hand, palm out.] “Get Ready.” [Teacher brings down hand. Students respond by saying the letter, ‘a’]
To my mind, this method seems unimaginative, boring, and robotic. It was also incredibly, immeasurably, unimaginably boring to have to sit through about 30 hours’ worth of instruction about when you should point and when you should speak and when you should have an open hand and when you should have a closed hand and when you should move your hand. However, I have tried to be fair and reasonable enough to say that if it works, I’ll shut up and do my best with it. I’m not going to take the time to go out and critically evaluate the data they gathered to come to the conclusion that the method is successful, though I think there is counter-evidence against the method.
When the sessions were over, the staff would generally group up and go somewhere to eat. One night, several of them decided to drive down to the beach – a drive of at least a couple of hours. I jumped into one of the vans and off we went. The drive provided me with the opportunity to listen to the stories of the other staff, see how they interacted, and hear about my class. Nearly everyone I talked with seemed to have some kind of story to tell about the class I would be teaching.
They went through three teachers last year.
One of them hid in the closet and caused a lock down.
You have to watch out for that one. She’ll try to run the class.
Oh, but they’re good kids. Smart.
We arrived at the beach, and I stood back to watch and take a few pictures as they ran down to the water, some of them getting their first real look and feel of the ocean. I was beginning to really like this group. They were easy going and seemed to have no trouble accepting me. In a similar manner, I decided to also accept them without question or judgment.
At the end of the night, a few of them talked about going to hang out at one of the bars. I declined, and headed to bed without another thought.
The next day there was a picnic. After myself and one of the other young new teachers had gotten our food and sat down, the principal came over and joined us.
“I want you to know,” he said very seriously, “that there is a strict no-alcohol allowed policy. Now, I’ve already noticed that some of the staff have been drinking, but they’re not supposed to be, so if you see something, you need to come to me.”
It was all I could do to keep my jaw from dropping. I concentrated on my food, being sure to look respectful when required to. Was he seriously telling us to spy and tattle on our co-workers? We were adults. Accountability is one thing, but this? I had no intention of being a babysitter, tattle-tale, or someone simply stuck in the middle of an admin vs. staff battle. So much for the nice fuzzy feeling I had been starting to get concerning the group. Enter again, awkwardness.
The next afternoon, the principal invited all the new teachers to lunch to talk about the housing situation. They had thought the houses were ready for us at C--, but there had been some miscommunication, so they thought we’d be in the housing at Passing Sheep School, but those places weren’t ready yet. We were officially, homeless teachers. Our principal, Mr. Black Crow, also took this opportunity to tell us more about each of the other staff – what to watch out for, who to watch out for, who liked to gossip, who will stab you in the bag, and who you need to be careful around.
I want to take a moment to describe for you Mr. Black Crow and my first impressions of him. He is a small, grandfatherly looking man with obvious Native features – Cherokee Nation, I think? He seems to have a heart for the school and kids, and has a quiet, earnest, down-to-earth way about him.
After telling us all the news about the questionable housing and the qualities of the other staff, he asked us if we still wanted to teach there. I had come this far and it didn’t make sense to back out now. The other three Caucasian girls were with an organization called Teach For America and were already committed to a certain degree. The Pilipino woman hesitated and asked for some more time to think about it.
I was frustrated by everything I was hearing and was beginning to feel under pressure. Because of this, I began to make a more determined effort to meet with God in the morning before I had to meet with anyone else. It was beginning to look as though God and I would be getting a lot closer. Lord, what did I go barreling into?
I started spending more time with the other three girls, drawn by fact that we were all in the same boat, in so many ways. One of the girls, Katrina, had actually spent a year in Taiwan and also knew how to speak Chinese. I discovered this by accident at the picnic. She asked me a question and without thinking, I answered, “Wo bu jidao” (I don’t know). After a moment of shocked surprise, and after exchanging some Chinese experiences, we spent a few minutes practicing our limited skills in the language. The two of us had also decided, during the discussion on housing, that we would room together to cut costs and because they didn’t know if they’d have enough housing for everyone to have their own place. Thank you, Lord. This situation was looking promising.
My interactions with the other staff members didn’t really change after the new revelations, though I did feel myself pulling back a little.
I was beginning to worry about how things would be with everyone as the year progressed.
The sessions ended on Thursday and we flew out on Friday. My plan was to stay with my uncle Friday night, and then move in on Saturday. We had heard a definitive word that we would be living in the Passing Sheep School housing… until it was time for them to renovate the places.
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